Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thank God for Our Chapter Leaders

Fear.   Why are so many people afraid of being leaders?  Is it because our approval of our political leaders is at an all-time low and we don’t want to be on the spot or under the microscope?  Or is it because there is a mystique around being a leader that it takes special qualities that we are afraid we don’t possess?  Or is it just because we are happy enough to let someone else take the lead and extend themselves and stay ourselves in our comfort zones?

Milw Oshk and FdLac

Leaders from Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Oshkosh


Probably all of the above.  And based upon my recent travels to Wisconsin and Indiana, it sounds like building and ensuring future chapter leadership, especially the President position, is a concern from coast to coast.  In Milwaukee,  leaders from the Milwaukee, Fond du Lac Chapter and Oshkosh chapters gathered at the home of Milwaukee co-president Jean Phelan, where they shared with me their current challenges around getting great volunteers to step up to leadership positions.  I heard the same at lunch with leaders from the Fort Wayne Chapter after a visit to their coat distribution center.  And I’ve heard it from other chapters as well as the National Board.


Convention Keynote Speaker Erin Lawler, Esq.(

We were fortunate to have as our Keynote speaker at Convention Erin Lawler, a mediator and dispute resolution expert who also is the daughter of immediate past NCCS Treasurer Joan Watkins.  At her session on Communications Skills for Women Leaders (opens in a new window; scroll down the Convention page to her presentation and hand-out) Erin got to the nub of some of the discomfort many women have–and can overcome–when discussing sensitive or controversial issues that arise in volunteer organizations.   And there are many more educational opportunities NCCS can and will provide going forward, on leadership competencies ranging from planning and execution, meeting management, delegation and empowerment, public speaking–and more.  Yet it strikes me that sometimes, particularly in the context of Christ Child, we make leadership seem harder than we need to.

Fr. Hesburgh

Fr. Theodore Hesburgh

Vision.  As Fr. Ted Hesburgh (opens a new window), President Emeritus of Notre Dame University, has famously said regarding leadership:  “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision.  You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Mary Virginia Merrick, Servant of God (opens in a new window), laid it out pretty simply for us didn’t she?  There’s no lack of clarity in the statement “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.”  Likewise, there is no lack of relevance of our mission.  In Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew, we were reminded that “whatever you do for the least brothers of mine, you do for me.”  Serving our least brothers is the heart and soul of Christ Child, so we each have a leg up as potential leaders by virtue of our very clear mission and focus.

Example.  We are also strong in terms of leadership by example.  St. Francis said   “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”  Just this past week I received a video clip (opens in new window) from the Fort Wayne chapter where the local TV station was honoring the Christ Child Coat Chair Janet Didier and her husband for their community impact.  Janet immediately made the story about the Christ Child and leading by example.  Take a look at the story! (opens in a new window)

Tricia Jones

Immediate Past Washington, D.C. President and Hostess with the Mostest Tricia Boland Jones

Thanks One area we could probably do better in is appreciating the leaders we have today and their incredible contributions.  I was reminded of this recently in a beautiful way at the home of Immediate Past Washington D.C. President Tricia Boland Jones, who gathered the leaders and their spouses from her term as President for a Mass with the chapter’s spiritual advisor and a lovely dinner after that.  No agenda, no donations.  Just thanks.  It was beautiful to witness–and a great party I was lucky to be invited to!

So on this eve of Thanksgiving, thank You, Lord, for all the Christ Child Society’s leaders.  From our intrepid and ambitious foundress to every leader who founded or is working to found a chapter.  To all the leaders who have contributed to so many of our chapters providing 50 years or more of service in their communities. To every committee or event chair or officer who stayed in position longer than planned (or desired) to ensure a smooth transition to a new leader.  To those who stepped up when it wasn’t the perfect time in your work or personal life.  To all who have offered to serve on the National Board to bring your talents to help other chapters.  All of you have answered the call and have kept us on track to serve children in need first and foremost.  God bless you and your families and may God continue to bless us all in our important work.

Finally, a prayer in Thanksgiving for all who’ve “gone before us”:   All those whom we’ve loved and lost to death.  All those who’ve made our paths forward easier.  All those who’ve dared to walk ahead when we were afraid or unable.  Thanks for our parents and grandparents–and for all our lives’ leaders, especially the “little Child who leads us”.

Gary Kelley

Thanks for Gary Kelley, who passed 14 years ago today


We’re All God’s Children: Red-Wagon Award-Winning “Treasures” Program

Self-esteem sometimes seems like an unattainable buzzword in our society today—and an inward-facing one at that. Yet inside each of us is a kernel of grace and individuality which makes us God’s child, a Christ Child–and that kernel needs nurturing, by ourselves and others.   That’s why we’re here.

All Gods Children

Envelope Art by Edward from Christ Child Treasures Program

Recently I sang at the funeral of a dear friend’s sister who died of alcoholism, a woman who in her last days kept asking how the Hail Mary started even though she refused medical attention and was ashamed to let her family see her.  On the rainy afternoon of her memorial, the beautiful service said it all: How Lorrie was born a treasure and remained of value, while not sugar-coating her separateness, pain and illness during much of her life. Singing the psalm at the lectern, I could see Lorrie’s children fighting with their emotions but being nurtured by the congregation honoring the holy kernel in their mother, even as they embraced their own children.

Treasures volunteers

Pasadena Chapter Volunteers Lorraine Reaume, Kacey Riley & Charlene Seeley


Carol Pickle

At Convention, the Christ Child Society of Pasadena was awarded the Red Wagon Award for its “Christ Child Treasures” program. This new program is focused on building self-esteem and social skills in 6th grade boys and girls in 7 two-hour sessions taught by Christ Child volunteers. Being the intrepid photographer I am becoming in service of this blog, I asked if I could photograph the first session this fall.  Granted the opportunity by Pasadena chapter president Carol Pickle (who in additional to being President volunteers in the St. Andrews Library) and program directors Terry Clougherty and Lorraine Reaume, I showed up at St. Andrew’s School On October 8 with an open heart and ready cell phone.

Treasures Snack

Snack Time and Conversation Time

The kids trickled out of recess to the two-hour session, full of questions about what this “Treasures” program was going to be all about. Table captains were assigned from each of the 5 tables to serve a Christ Child-prepared and much-appreciated snack to their peers; little did those table captains know they would be asked to do even more in just a few minutes!

Fittingly, the first session’s module was about meetings and introductions. We Christ Child ladies started things off by introducing ourselves, saying three things about ourselves to help the kids know who we were. Then Lorraine asked the table captains to introduce themselves, using our example. I’ll never forget this boy standing up and saying how he didn’t know until the night before school in September that he’d be going to St. Andrews, that the first few weeks had been hard going, but that he was enjoying himself very much now. Talk about taking your moment and communicating to your audience! And the class’ spontaneous and generous response was to clap for him, to a one.


6th graders journaling about their attributes

Then the students were given their binders, including a journal to be used throughout the course. Lorraine invited all the kids to write something about themselves that they would like to tell someone they were meeting for the first time. Two of the 26 children asked if they could depict their qualities in drawings; others scribbled their lists of attributes. One kid was stuck, and the girl sitting across from him suggested, “Why don’t you write down that you’re funny, ‘cause you’re really funny!”.

Treasures handshake

Shaking hands and making eye contact

Journals completed, we moved into “Meetings and Introductions”. We spent some time talking about why and how we shake hands and look each other in the eyes in this society—and why it’s important. The goal was to get every child comfortable bringing forward the best treasure in themselves and to be open to the treasure in whomever they would meet, including figures of authority and people who seemed different from them. Then we literally shook things up, shaking hands adults to kids and kids to kids and providing feedback about how they could better be “in the moment” when meeting someone new. The kids will sure have reinforcement on this; all other sessions begin with a receiving line of teachers and Christ Child ladies!


Terry Clougherty

Treasures TYN art shot

26 Thank You Notes from Treasures Program Participants

Other modules of the Treasures program include respect for others (including anti-bullying), table manners, grooming, and saying thanks. This last is where former NCCS board member and “Christ Child Treasures” program director Terry Clougherty surprised the national board and the office. After showing the Mary Virginia Merrick Canonization DVD to the class she taught them how to address and write thank you notes.  Then she asked them to write thank you notes to the National Board for the Treasures program and the Red Wagon Award (let’s be clear–all thanks properly go to Pasadena!)—and for Society’s work for children over its history. Here are just a few examples:

  • “I am enjoying this Treasures class. Thank you for everything you do. You guys are so thoughtful for everything you give kids.” Aryan
  • “Thank you so much for what you are doing helping all these children. I think that is amazing and I want to do that when I get older.” Nicolette
  • “I am learning all kinds of new things. Some of these are manners, introductions and how to write notes. I am very impressed that you help all these children get education, food, and happiness. I wish good luck to you and the children.” Jack

    Edward Treasures TYN

    Thank you note from Edward, impressed by the story of Mary Virginia Merrick

  • “Thank you for being an inspiration to all people. You are lovely and kind women. Just remember you are a true inspiration/role model to me.” Kristine
  • “Thank you for helping poor children. Thank you for knitting blankets for babies. I have learned so much from the video we watched on Miss Mary. I have also learned so much from our etiquette class.” Jordan

“Christ Child Treasures” is not the only self-esteem program among our Christ Child chapters. For example, the Washington, D.C. chapter operates an impactful program for girls that includes similar elements—and incorporates others. Seeing the Pasadena program first-hand impressed me with its impact on children at a transitional age—so much so that I’ll be visiting the D.C. program in December. But the notes also touched me in a different way—they made me so proud to be a Christ Child member and to serve with women all around the country who “treasure” children in so many different ways. As Kristine said, you are lovely and kind people and a daily inspiration.

Till next time, when the topic is about chapter challenges I’m hearing from the road. . . .

Happy Miss Mary’s Birthday!

It somehow seems fitting for this first National Christ Child blogpost to be published on Mary Virginia Merrick’s birthday, November 2.  Really it’s a sort of a trifecta weekend as we also celebrate All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day and focus on the Beatitudes.  Miss Mary birthed our organization and remains an incredible inspiration for us and for our work in the service of children.  “Blessed are the merciful” truly is an instruction to us to engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that our chapters perform today.   Miss Mary’s example was recognized in her time and continues to gain recognition as her Cause for Canonization develops, which is why the proximity of her birthday to All Saints Day is particularly special to me this year.

Patty Myler

Patty Myler, NCCS Historian

MVM walkway handicap

The Merrick Way, including handicapped ramp

MVM walkway at st pauls

Merrick Way towards the church hall


The Merrick Way Dedication Plaque

I was so lucky that one of the first things I did after my installation in Phoenix was to travel with past national president and current NCCS historian Patty Myler of the Washington, D.C. chapter to visit St. Paul’s in Ellicott City, Maryland.   We were invited to participate in the dedication of a walkway St. Paul’s erected in honor of Miss Mary.  Miss Mary and her family attended St. Paul’s when they were staying at their nearby summer home called Linwood in the late 1800’s.  The walkway stretches between the side entrance to the church, including the handicapped entrance, and an historic building which once served as the St. Paul School.  We could tell that there was real excitement at St. Paul’s about the importance of Mary Virginia Merrick’s life and work and her relationship to their parish.  One of the 8th graders at St. Paul’s even did a video about Miss Mary’s life filmed from the area in the church which had been the Merrick family pew which Patty and I had the privilege to see.


Linwood, the Merrick’s summer home

Knowing we were so close to Linwood, Patty and I had to see it for ourselves.  This was because two of the most significant events in Miss Mary’s life took place there:  her religious conversion experience out back beyond the house which centered her life around the Christ Child, and her catastrophic fall which resulted in living her life in a reclining wheelchair.  The picture to the right is of the house today, which is now a facility to teach and empower children with autism.  Since it was a Sunday, I thought it might be ok to go around the back of the house so we could see where Miss Mary might have walked to and from her conversion experience at age 11, about which she once said:

“I was not adoring beauty, nor order, nor the wheat, nor the sun but really and truly He who had made all things, the God of earth and sky.  I can vividly recall that I was one with the vast creation.  But that I could know him though the wheat could not.  So little was I that the tall spears quite covered me as I knelt, and I thought they bowed with me to the great God, whom I loved and to whom I gave myself then and there.”

On a glorious early fall day the best shot I could get is the cloudy panoramic below.  I think it catches the beauty of the place even in today’s more developed landscape, and the field in the view seemed to be somewhere you might hear God’s voice just a little more clearly.

A fall day at the back of Linwood

View from Linwood of where Miss Mary’s conversion may have taken place

What a great inspiration and memory to take back to our work to serve our 43 chapters as we begin the new Board’s 2014-16 term!   Next week I’ll post on the 2014 Red Wagon award-winning program Christ Child Treasures from Pasadena, so please subscribe and/or reply with feedback.  Thanks!